Should I Memorize Everything Using Memory Palaces?

Our feeling here is an emphatic "no." As we've said, memory techniques are learning tools, not silver bullets. It sounds obvious, but you probably shouldn't be using memory techniques for their own sake. Use them when they're useful, and don't when they aren't. Really think about what specific benefit you're getting from mnemonically encoding a particular piece of info.

A simple rule of memory is that we best remember those things which have semantic meaning to us (this principle is intuitive, but see the Baker/Baker Paradox for a simple scientific demonstration). So, I don't mnemonically encode most of what I can intuitively understand. The goal is to maintain an optimal mix of understanding and intuition coupled with memory techniques as a supplement. If I can understand the mechanisms underlying a process or disease, that's what I want. And that even goes for terms or concepts I feel in the moment I can learn quickly by rote. Memory palaces are just learning tools, and—it sounds obvious but it's worth repeating—they shouldn't be used for their own sake. Again, use them when they're natural and effective, and don't when they aren't. They're really just there to help me keep the vast swath of material straight, and to help me recall unintuitive yet important details. If you over-make images, you'll soon find that, after some time with the material, half of your images will be useless. They'll be encoding information you now find inherently meaningful and therefore easy-to-remember on your own. I try to ask myself: in a few weeks, when I've gotten a better handle on the material, which images will still be valuable to me? From the get-go, those are the only images I want to make. Another way to say this is that I "memorize" as little as possible. In this way, I aim to minimize my reliance on memorization to the detriment of my problem-solving ability. The bottom line is that effective learning requires critical thinking about the concepts at play. If you're spending loads of time creating images and "memorizing" everything without critical thinking, it should come as no surprise that learning suffers.

That said, there are plenty of pesky facts I need to remember that don't (at least at the time I learn them) have the context needed to make them intuitive: Ehrlichiosis infection leads to berry inclusions on pathology? The drug olanzapine is especially known for causing weight gain, even among its drug cousins which operate by the same basic mechanism? In Whipple disease, macrophages stain PAS-positive? The serum marker CA 19-9 is elevated in pancreatic cancer? Instances like these are where memory techniques can push you to the next level. They lend special meaning, even if it's "artificial" meaning. One great thing about having things encoded, apart from improved recall, is that I often identify connections in the future that do provide the context to make those once pesky facts intuitive.

Each time I recall something using a palace, I then try to ask myself: "What? Why?" In other words, what's visually happening in real life (not just in the palace)? Why is it that way?

To reiterate, I always try to think critically about the best way to handle the particular piece of info I'm trying to learn. The traditional memory techniques we often discuss—imagining info as images and placing them in a memory palace—may or may not be suitable to the task at hand. If memory palaces don't feel like a natural fit, I go a different direction with the learning process.

This principlebeing selective about images and making as few as possibleis critical, and it's one of our top three tips when it comes to using memory techniques for learning. You can find the rest here